Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Coffee Tales

In his story, Vendor of Sweets, author R.K. Narayan gives a crash course on how to make an honest cup of south Indian filter coffee. On one of his visits to the United States, at a coffee counter, the author was asked, "Black or white?" "Neither," replied Narayan. "I want it brown. That's how we make it in south India."

Brown, milky and sweet, that is how I too love my coffee. Perfectly the South Indian way. I come from a household that grew and brew its own coffee. My maternal grandfather used to grow coffee along with rubber and other crops. Though the estate was replanted as more money grew on rubber trees [did i just write that line!] we always had enough coffee for domestic consumption. Branded coffee was tasted much later. The first brand of coffee to enter our kitchen was Bru. It became fashionable to sprinkle a little Bru on the freshly frothed coffee almost brimming to fall off the tumbler.

Children were not allowed to drink coffee. Grandma believed, "You would become dark like a roasted coffee bean." I have driven her nuts by stealing and drinking coffee even from her maid's glass. Drinking from the house maid's glass was forbidden and if caught the poor maid also got a yell. Grandma was not just an elitist but was also a coffee expert. A simple whiff from the store-bought coffee and she would tell how much chicory it had. Her huge kitchen was my favourite place to explore [or spill the long dripping decoction filter across the kitchen floor] ... and when she would have had enough of me grandpa would take me to the estate. Chandra Estate was etched on its metal gates. The estate was a beautiful piece of land grandpa's ancestors left for him by the banks of river Kallada in south of India. I vividly remember ambling there...  picking, smelling, biting and spitting out the bitter raw coffee bean... just like the estate monkeys did. Children were luckier than monkeys cos the watchman never shot us down for doing that - chewing n spitting bean. A dead monkey was usually hung by a tall branch to shoo others off. With lesser coffee trees this brutal ritual ended.

Coffee works displayed at Courtyard Gallery Dubai
It was much later and at a different place altogether that I took to painting with coffee. It happened in the summers of 2009 in Dubai.

Art with coffee stains on canvas is an inspired thought that struck me like a bolt from the blue. May seem silly but it was a closer look at my stained white coasters that actually gave me the idea that coffee can make tough but brilliant stains. So I don't really paint with coffee. I make stains. Stains that will last as long as they can... unfazed. I drip the decoction on canvas cloth. Use spoons and knives to make tiny rivulets. Arrest the flow where I wish. Blow. Blot. Bake. Spatter dry coffee on wet surface. I have explored most aspects of its diuretic nature to play the medium to its maximum benefit.

For those who ask me does it fade? Here is the answer. I use various coatings to keep the colour just as crisp as it should. Some even ask if it is water resistant. I normally don't go into the details of what fine art is and should be treated like. But sometimes you have no choice when someone is curious about the work. The wonderful thing is that coffee rocks! Coffee art broke the glass ceiling... galleries called for them... commissions came... event organisers wanted to sponsor my solos. Soon coffee art became almost my second name [almost ;)]. Even though my oils made with palette knife has its fans, coffee amuses differently. "Wow can I smell it" - is one line that keeps me amused too. Will blog about my oils in another post.

I am nostalgic, nocturnal and love nature. These things reflect in my works. I am hugely influenced by English literature and music my family had followers ever since I was a child.... from Wordsworth to heavy metal to country numbers to reggae numbers. Mostly Bob Marley, Simon & Garfunkel, Carpenters, Gun & Roses play while I am at work. I have noticed this music is loved by my students too. Most of them were new to the old numbers when they joined me but now each one has a favourite from my play list and it makes me so happy - you have no idea!

Here are some of my coffee works from the Cup of Joy Series... with their individual stories. In this series I have used Indian, Italian and Turkish variety of coffees. Each has its own magnificent hue and unique properties. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did while making em.

jack sparrow_30x40cm
jack sparrow
if winds can whistle
if rocks can dance
if trees can walk
if caves can roar
if waves can rise
if ships can sail
if charms can robe
jack can sparrow
- blu

panda pandora_30x40cm
panda pandora
from china with love
who is this cool fella?
zebra's fat cousin?
bear's peaceful brother?
he slips into the marshes
to cool off by the shrubs
to munch on bamboo shoots
to watch the world go by
- blu

come autumn_30x40cm
come autumn
last autumn the little boy came
picked the fallen leaves
ran home to show
the first of the season
this year too the boy came
saw golden leaves and clapped
like a charm they rained
all over him, all of a sudden
he opened his arms wide
jumping and shrieking in joy
calling out again and again
come autumn, fall all over me

Dream Weaver_1x1mt on display at Al Ain's Al Qattara Art Centre
dream weaver
she is a traditional sado weaver in her thatched palm home-workshop…
she dreams and weaves out colours beyond what eyes can see…
her lover swings his shepherd’s hook while he walks away to the hills…
he sings to his sheep and the mountains echo his song…
winds from the desert carry the song to his beloved who smiles behind her veil…
they sing her to dream on while her busy hands weave him a new gift…

he is a winner
he chases the winds
or is it the other way?
even bolts from the blue
cannot slow him down
abby... that is his master's call
to which he comes prancing
like a little puppy would
a winner, mighty sweet boy

who will love a little sparrow?_30x40cm
who will love a little sparrow?
she might be lonely
wet and caught in the rain
the trees are wet
so are their branches
but she loves the rain
though she cant fly
she loves its sound
of drops on the puddle
winds clear the clouds
sun is up and her wings dry
she chirps her way back home
to where her heart is
to the oak tree here you see...
down under the meadows
- blu

tuscan dream_30x40cm
tuscan dream
in the summer of 2008
i walked by her stunning beauty
though heaven on earth
tuscany, they call her
with hay rolled up
wind warm and crisp
sky-tall cypress trees
dotting the horizon
with sunflowers and poppies
skirting the corn fields
pink skies, golden earth
yellow and red flowers
olive green trees
a stream of dream
that has become true

oh hummingbird lend us your wings_30x40cm
oh hummingbird lend us your wings
oh humming bird
i wish i were you
to stay flying
floating next to poppies
intoxicated in nectar
dotting the blue
humming my songs
in the ears of the weeds
whistling in the wind
shaking off its seeds
that fly to the land
where they sleep
until next summers
to sprout, flower and sing
come to me dear
oh little humming bird
- blu

owl we need is love and coffee_30x40
owl we need is love and coffee...

she is ullu, the wicked owl
she lives in the woodpecker's hole
she sleeps all day
she wakes up at night

she has no friend
she is spooky an cold
her neighbors are ghosts
their dog howls at her sight

her neck turns all round
her eyes are bright and round
she sweeps down to pick the mice
she frowns but that is her smile


puppy love_30x40cm
puppy love
when eddie was a puppy
she would just lick
lick till she knows
you are one with her
warmth of her tongue
on my palms
her cold nose
on the nape of my neck
a puppy is pure joy
her love is beyond the skies

man on animal
animal with man
mankind's joy
kind is it?
man on a misson
finishing on time
winner he is
when man is animal
- blu

Saved the best for the last... Buffalo Soldier Bob Marley and Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammad two of my favorite portraits in coffee...

Buffalo Soldier on display at Dubai's Meydan Hotel

I Love Shk Mo is with his highness himself... in return he gifted a signed copy of his autobiography.

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